by Michael Garrity of American Rivers and Lisa Pelly of Trout Unlimited
The Yakima Basin Integrated Plan is a big deal. For farmers and river flows, certainly, ensuring water reliability as the climate warms and snowpack shrinks and as what’s left of it melts off sooner. For fish, definitely, bringing back what may be the largest sockeye run outside of Canada and Alaska. And for families, without a doubt, the wild places that we love so well will be enjoyed and protected by future generations.
Both of us have explored, hiked, camped, bird watched, rafted and fished the rivers and streams of the upper Yakima basin for most of our lives. We’ve also put a lot of blood, sweat and tears into the negotiations that will, we hope, bring the YBIP to fruition. So today, as the prospects for an initial round of funding look good, what really gets us excited is imaging the upper Yakima Basin ten years from today, when the plan is well underway.
In the beautiful Cooper and Waptus river watersheds, we have spent hours watching sockeye salmon spawning for the first time in nearly a century. With permanent fish passage constructed at the Cle Elum dam, we’ll be seeing a lot more of them making their way back to high valleys of the north central Cascades. We’ll also see happier, fatter trout in those rivers, and both of us are looking forward to hooking them on a fly. And its not just a fish story – salmon will serve as food for other fish and wildlife. Spawning salmon will help trees and forests grow stronger, taller and older as the fish bring fresh nutrients up river again.
Then there’s the crown jewel – the Teanaway Valley – the largest single public land acquisition in 45 years in Washington, that the YBIP will make possible. Wolves and wolverines have already returned, but the restoration of a robust salmon run and restored meadows and floodplains will create a wilder ecosystem there than has been seen in decades, if not a century. Instead of worrying about future development there, we’ll be able to camp, hike and fish to our hearts’ content.
The YBIP’s benefits are profound, and will stretch from the Cascades to the Columbia – we’ve only mentioned few here, focusing just on the upper Yakima. We both feel very blessed to be part of helping to shape a more sustainable Yakima Basin in the coming years, and are looking forward to many more adventures up and down its rivers and streams.
Garrity is the Washington State Conservation Director for American Rivers. Pelly is the Director of the Washington Water Project for Trout Unlimited.